Give me a home where the Internet roams

More young Yellowstone workers don't want to rough it anymore.

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

When Daniele Tiezzi left his home in Tuscany this summer, he came to the United States with aspirations of finding work in "the wild West."

"I wanted to experience something that is authentically American," he says.

Young Mr. Tiezzi decided to follow the footsteps of his college-aged American counterparts who, for more than a century, have sought employment at Yellowstone between Memorial and Labor Days. From toiling as bellhops and hamburger cooks in park hotels to pumping gas at filling stations, the migration is part of a grand tradition going back to the 1880s.

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But in recent years, the attitude among American recruits has begun to change.

It used to be that they arrived without hesitation to work for minimum wage and live in spartan dormitory rooms. Now, say hiring officials, younger workers seem less willing to rough it.

They grumble that there aren't phone jacks in dorm rooms so that they can prowl the cyber-wilderness with their laptops every evening. They tote portable 18-inch satellite dishes and mini-televisions so they can watch nighttime cop shows. And they lament Yellowstone's lack of high-tech amenities.

"I've had a couple of people write me letters saying that if we want to attract quality people, it is necessary for Amfac to keep up with the times and allow its employees here to surf the Internet," says Tim Baymiller, who does the hiring for Amfac Parks and Resorts, the largest employer in Yellowstone. Increasingly, he says, the allure of wonderland alone is no longer enough.

For David Reeves, a former Yellowstone summer employee who now resides in Bozeman, Mont., the demand for high-tech stimuli is a sad development. He says it alters not only the atmosphere, but also the way people in Yellowstone relate to each other, too.

"In the absence of television, radio, and video games, you are almost forced to wile away your nights in the company of other people," he says. "The friendships become meaningful because you bond with them through an experience that few other people in the world can have."

Given the challenges of recruiting enough young Americans, Amfac has found success attracting Europeans like Tiezzi. In fact, a sizable number of college students from the former Yugoslavia jumped at the opportunity to work in Yellowstone, regarded as the global icon of national parks. Coming here let them escape social strife and environmental degradation in their homeland.

"Yellowstone is one-fourth the size of Bosnia and Herzegovina," says Tiezzi, who has made new friends from eastern Europe and plans to visit them across the Adriatic Sea after he returns to his university classes in Italy this autumn. "You have all this space with no people except along the roads. It's incredible."

Jim McCaleb, Amfac's general manager in Yellowstone, notes that the Europeans' reaction to Yellowstone has inspired Americans to better appreciate their summer in the outback.

And despite requests, Amfac still has not capitulated by putting TVs in the dormitories. "By and large, most employees still give us a thumbs down on television," Mr. McCaleb says. "They realize that they can't get this type of environment any place else, and they're happier for it."

A hopeful sign is that now as students near the end of their sojourn, more appear enraptured by escapes into the forest with their newfound friends. In some cases, they are less compelled to turn on their computers and make solitary treks through the cyberfrontier.

"We are converting a few and maybe that's the silver lining," McCaleb says. "Every year at least a third of our staff decides to come back. As a place, Yellowstone is positively impacting people."

In fact, Amfac has put the philosophy in writing. "Let's face it," a company brochure reads, "if you can't find something to do in Yellowstone, you might be missing the point of working here all together."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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